“Working out loud”: Your personal content strategy

While collaboration platforms are increasingly attractive to enterprises, most people still don’t know how to use them at work.

After a brief introduction, individuals are quick to understand the concepts: the power of networks, the potential for shaping their reputation, the extraordinary commercial possibilities.

But they struggle with what they should actually do.

Here’s a good place to start.

Beware the YACCs!

Two of the most common objections I hear are “I don’t have enough time” and “I don’t know what to post.” That’s because people often think of using a collaboration platform as an extra thing to do. An additional way to communicate.

And people at work are already overloaded: email, phone, voice mail, mobile phone, mobile phone voice mail, instant messenger, group chat, desktop video, desktop video messages.

The last thing anyone wants is Yet Another Communications Channel.

So, instead of focusing on communicating in new ways, it’s important that collaboration and contribution is in line with the work people do every day.

Working out loud

Recognizing this, Bryce Williams coined the term “working out loud” and defined it this way:

 “Working out loud = Narrating your work + Observable work”  

For Bryce, narrating your work is “journaling…what you are doing in an open way.” And making your work observable is “creating/modifying/storing your work in places that others can see it, follow it, and contribute to it IN PROCESS.”

This used to be impractical with most communications tools. (You’d never send email to a large group about things you’re doing throughout the day.) But modern collaboration platforms combine rich content-handling with Twitter-like activity feeds that make it easy to skim large amounts of content quickly.

That combination opens up new possibilities.

Observable work

The vast majority of people at work are uncomfortable blogging or tweeting. They’re simply not used to it and some may never be.

But everybody works. They create documents and presentations. They schedule and attend events. They comment on other people’s work.

Collaboration platforms make all of that work visible. Every one of those actions can be communicated to your social network without any extra effort.

“John Stepper just uploaded ‘Banking & social media’ in Social Media Community”

Simply by using a collaboration platform to store your material, you make you and your work visible in real-time. And, better still, your work (projects, documents, discussions) is now searchable and discoverable. People will find you any time they’re looking for content related to what you’re doing.

Narrating your work

In 2009, Dave Winer wrote about “Narrating your work” – the practice of providing a brief, running commentary on your work as you do it.

Later, in an extremely helpful article entitled “Do’s and Don’ts for your work’s social platform”, Andrew McAfee also encouraged people to narrate their work:

“Talk both about work in progress (the projects you’re in the middle of, how they’re coming, what you’re learning, and so on), and finished goods (the projects, reports, presentations, etc. you’ve executed). This lets others discover what you know and what you’re good at. It also makes you easier to find, and so increases the chances you can be a helpful colleague to someone. Finally, it builds your personal reputation and ‘brand.'”

Confused about what to write? Simply post about what you’re working on every day. Who you’re meeting with. The research you’re doing. Articles you find relevant. Lessons you learned. Mistakes you made.

The form factor of short posts that are easy-to-skim make this kind of narration practical – for both the author and the audience.

It’s a start

It only takes a few posts before people start seeing the benefits. Being able to work out loud allows employees to make connections – finding people and content relevant to their work – like never before.

As Stowe Boyd writes:

“..bringing activities out of closed repositories and applications, and pulling them into the open increases the likelihood of learning key information earlier…working out loud leads to succeeding (or failing) more quickly…makes a company more intelligent: quicker to improve, and more resilient in the context of uncertainty.”

People already familiar with social tools understand this. For the rest, they’ll have to begin using the tools and experience it for themselves.

Working out loud is the most practical way for them to start.

About John Stepper

Helping organizations create a more collaborative culture – and helping individuals access a better career and life – by spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.
This entry was posted in Social Business, Working out loud and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

77 Responses to “Working out loud”: Your personal content strategy

  1. brianinroma says:

    Reblogged this on buridansblog and commented:
    Working out loud results in serendipitous opportunities. See more on the subject here: http://buridansblog.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/dont-fear-the-dragons-why-the-social-web-should-be-part-of-your-work-day/

  2. Right John. Working out loud is a good start. Senior management of a large organization must leverage the power of social to communicate with the team on their vision, goals, etc. They should use this platform for driving trust and transparency in the organization. People can collaborate with leaders, leaders can collaborate with their team and so on.

  3. Adding this to my course for my students to review. We’re doing ‘organizing your digital life’ this week and this is perfect. Cheers.

  4. Some great tangible steps on ‘where to even start’ John, thanks for sharing this.

  5. Rachel Miller. Twitter: @AllthingsIC says:

    So true about YACCs! Great post John, thanks for sharing, Rachel.

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  7. John, great piece as usual. As you know, I’m a proponent of “working out loud” but how do you prescribe this treatment when the majority of work a firm does is confidential client work. such as that of a consulting firm, which prohibits members of a client team from saying anything about their work to others in the firm? If you tell them to post generic updates of their work they probably won’t take it seriously (and might take them extra time to figure out how to say something without saying it), and it isn’t going to be much use for others if it’s too generic. The need to maintain client confidentiality can be a roadblock to adoption.

    • John Stepper says:

      Thanks, Rob. That’s an important point. There are many more restrictions (and sensitivities) when it comes to client data or, in banking, with price-sensitive information (aka material, non-public information).

      But it’s also a red herring of sorts. How much of a firm’s work is really about such information? In a firm like yours or mine, there are tens of thousands of people who rarely even come in contact with such information. And for most of the remaining people, it’s a minority of what they do. Yes, there are exceptions – corporate finance working on secret deals – but they’re just that. Exceptions.

      Our approach is to focus on the 95% case and get more and more people used to working out loud. We’ll use that time and the learning that takes place to help us handle the exceptions later on.

    • James Dellow says:

      Generally speaking I’m with John on this point, however I appreciate Rob’s situation working in a large international accounting firms – there can be all sort of issues with differences between local firm operating models, client conflicts and legislative differences across jurisdictions. Its not quite the same situation as other organisations.

      That said, “working out loud” doesn’t need to include 170,000 people all of the time. Enterprise social business tools address this by providing difference places to work out loud – some completely open and others more private – and I think knowledge workers can be guided to make the right decisions about what to share where.

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  11. Alas, any use of the word “loud” brings with it a string of negative associations (noise, disturbance, impolite, brash, self-centric, egotistic, etc.), so perhaps “working out in the open” would be a better phrase to adopt?

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  27. thebrandingguy says:

    I believe we are moving towards “working out loud”, the concept you described so well in your post. It is closely connected to being completely transparent at work.

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  61. John Stepper says:

    A lot of happened since this post, including the phrase “Working Out Loud” being used more often. (There’s even a wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_Out_Loud )

    Here’s the definition I’m using now:

    “Working Out Loud: working in a an open, generous, connected way that enables you to build a purposeful social network, one that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.”

    The 5 main elements – making your work visible, building your network, leading with generosity, continually learning, and making it all purposeful – are described here:

    The hard part, though, isn’t defining Working Out Loud or understanding it. It’s changing your habits so that it becomes your natural way of working. The best way I’ve found to do that is with consistent practice over time, ideally with a coach or friend. More on the 12-week program is here:

    The book slated for later this year is intended to pull all of these ideas together in a coherent, practicable way.

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